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Industry Leaders Sound Off at Critical Skills Gap Awareness Summit

July 23, 2017

Industry officials expressed their problems in obtaining qualified workers at the Critical Skills Gap Awareness Summit hosted Friday by Kaskaskia College and the South Central Illinois Growth Alliance.

The President of the Growth Alliance, Breese Mayor Charlie Hilmes, opened the program by saying the issues need to be resolved.

“We are not growing as communities and counties. We’re getting smaller. If the jobs are not here in our communities, our youth will move away to where the jobs are. If our youth are moving out, our communities will continue to get older and shrink in size. Growth is impossible without good paying jobs,” said Hilmes. “I for one want to see growth in this five county region.”

The Dean of Career and Technical Education at Kaskaskia College George Evans shared similar sentiments.

“No business will invest in a community if they cannot provide a trained workforce. They won’t do it,” said Evans. “Any solid large business will do a feasibility study. They will not move to a location if they can’t provide a trained workforce.”

Evans says its critical to get schools involved in identifying those who are not college bound about good jobs that are available.

Jim Nelson of the Illinois Manufacturers Association says the average manufacturing job has an average salary and benefits of $82,000 a year. He says lack of basic skills is creating a large part of the problem.

“If you can get them here the second day or the second week, I’ll teach them everything they need to know. We need to create a system that blends both the occupation skills with essential skills so we create a well-round applicant of high quality,” said Nelson.

The Maintenance Manager at Continental Tire Joel Colvis is responsible for 270 maintenance positions at the sprawling Mt. Vernon plant.

“There is big retirement bubble that is coming up that I have to get ready for. Also because of expansions and adding more equipment I’ve been adding jobs. I currently have 20 positions right now that I am trying to fill right now from the expansion,” said Colvis. “We need a good trained maintenance work force, electro-mechanical technicians that can handle this technology and handle the repairs.”

Continental Tire along with Nascote in Nashville have developed their own apprentice and training programs while working with the colleges and paying for much of the course work for employees to advance.

The Human Resources Manager at Nascote Industries Jeff Dahlquist says they seek out those who want to return home or stay in the area. He’s looking at having to replace a quarter of their maintenance staff who are over 55 years of age.

“We continue to get more and more technical in our jobs. What we’re finding out from some of the young folks coming in that technology is just an extension of their arm. They learn that part of it really quick. It’s the problem solving skills and the ability to get your hands dirty and willingness to get your hands dirty that is much of the key,” said Dahlquist.

The President of Jarco in Salem Tracy Timmerman says they stayed in Salem because of the company’s work force, but are now looking to have replace those in their 50’s and 60’s who grew up in the business.

“You don’t have the farming kids out there that know how to fix anything coming off the farm and coming into industry anymore. You are starting at a lower level. It’s not an insult, it’s just the fact. The people coming in know how to use their iPhone and they know how to play their video games, but they don’t know what size a 9/16th wrench is. It’s a different world that we live in,” said Timmerman.

The lead instructor and employment counselor at the Southern Illinois Carpenters Apprenticeship Program Kenny Rose says their workforce is also getting older and he’s not finding a lot of interest among younger people.

Smaller companies are experiencing the same problems. The owner of Carl’s 4-Wheel Drive and Performance Center in Bartelso Carl Huels and Jim Moss of Lightbright Distributing in Trenton expressed their problems in finding employees and the declining work ethic.

Information was also presented on a U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship Program that is available for local businesses to assist in training new employees.

The South Central Illinois Growth Alliance will now review the results of the summit and develop a plan of action to address the issues.

Evans says it is clear you can get a good job locally without spending a ton of money going to college for four years.

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